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. . . IS DOWN . . . WAY DOWN!

We paraded out into the light, barely fifty-feet across the floor of a box canyon, until we reached the rim of a cliff. Un-lemming like we paused at the edge and stared down. It was like standing on a tent shaped roof of a twelve story building, but someone had completely ignored the building regulations. There were no walls! Not a single barrier, fence, barbed wire, nothing. One step to your left or right and the screaming wouldn’t stop for ten seconds. None of us lemmings pushed forward. [We're on the left]

Stretched out in front of us was a sandstone bridge maybe be fifty or sixty million years old. At least, one hundred and fifty yards long. Perhaps twelve stories high and a single strand of angle hair spaghetti in width. Surrounding us were incredibly steep cliffs. Most mountain goats wouldn’t even attempt scaling them. I paced around the one-acre square like a rat in a maze. I started to pant. My friends looked at me. “Just getting up my heart rate.” I lied. I paced faster. I started to gasp. Hyperventilate.

Meanwhile Curt and Mitch were gathering the gear and setting up a base camp in the middle of the 200-foot span.

The Cavendish Gang in the old westerns hid out in a box canyon. Sharp shooters were posted on the cliffs to guard the only way in or out. There was no way out of this canyon. Vultures were posted on the cliffs. And our group was carrying enough fat to feed a flock of the flesh eaters.

We were trapped! Lab mice in a maze with no levers to push to get goodies. Walled in. My mind raced. Aha! Curt and Mitch were reasonable people. I had a plan. What goes down could possibly climb right back up. I’d go back into the cave. I’d draw the belaying rope though the rings of the xylophone thing and hand- over- hand pull myself up the wall, slosh across the pond then scale ninety feet straight up. . . But there where no belaying ropes. C&M had pulled down the belaying ropes. Lousy bastards.

HELICOPTERS! Of course how simple. I bet we would all chip in. Hell, we might even ask the pilot to take us on a little side trip up to Arches National Park and give us an aerial view. Who wouldn’t enjoy an adventure within an adventure?

I raced back to our group who were cowering near the north end of Morning Glory Arch. I looked out over the span. Two hundred yards long. If you squinted you could see tiny people scurrying twelve stories below on the desert floor.


The mood was subdued as I rejoined the group. Quickly I laid out my helicopter rescue plan. I had three immediate takers and a few still vacillating when Curt appeared out of nowhere and told us about a helicopter ban in National Parks. (Later I would find out this was total B.S. The helicopter rescue team had promised a hefty fine the next time they had to “rescue” one of Curt’s “ rappellers.”)

“There must be another way down,” someone said.

“There is,” Curt nodded. “We do it all the time.”

“Ah, ha,” I said aloud. “I knew it.”

“We strap you snugly on to a plank we call the ‘cocoon’ and then lower you to the desert floor. I understand it’s quite comfortable.”

Somehow cocoon rhymed with coffin in my addled state. Since no one took him up on that offer, neither did I.

“Forget everything you learned on the first rappel,” Curt continued with encouragement.

Forget what I learned? He had to be kidding. I hadn’t learned anything!

“This is an entirely new technique.”

Luckily, I wouldn’t be confused by the old technique.

“You have to drop off the side and dangle a bit.”

DANGLE? Climbing down the wall of the cave at least you had your feet on a wall.

“Who’d like to go first? Here’s a chance to really test your skills.”

He got the same response one might expect from a group of doomed prisoner’s standing in front of a firing squad. Not one hand lifted skyward.

Jerry and D’Anne went first. We watched as they tight-roped their way across the top of Morning Glory Arch. Mitch and Curt helped them settle down in the middle of the span.

From fifty yards away we watched as Mitch and Curt mimed, gesticulated and finally saw Jerry slip over the side of the span. There was a collective gasp from our group. Jerry snailed sideways inch by inch down the face of rock. Finally there was no more rock and he pushed himself off into space where he dangled on the blue rope.

Then D’Anne began to move. On the pink rope, she eased herself down the slick face of rock. Down she went. Stopped, then down again finally gliding into thin air and spinning around and around.

From the deathly silence of the valley I heard Jerry call, “Tug the rope.” She did and immediately stopped turning. “Ready?” D’Anne nodded then together they descended.

So intent was I on Jerry and D’Anne I never saw Curt approach. “Okay, who’s next?” He asked with a ghoulish grin. Bobbie and I had already decided to go next. We stood. “I know it doesn’t look it,” he assured us, “but the top of Morning Glory Arch is almost five feet wide.

Right, if the top is five feet wide then I should have been playing center for the Golden State Warriors.

We started across. ‘Don’t look down,’ I told myself. My mind raced into negativity, ‘Suppose there was an earthquake? How about a sonic boom whose exact frequency would cause a minute crack in the granite. A crack

that would become a seam, then with a wrenching screech a huge chunk of rock would pull itself from the arch and avalanche downward, hopefully killing my brother but sparing D’Anne.

We arrived at the center. Bobbie sat next to a coil of pink rope. Mine was blue. Mitch handed us the end of each. “You remember how the line goes through the cylinders? Just ease it through.”

I tried but my fingers felt like one of those big rubber fingers you see at a ball game.

“When your body is against the rock wall you will find it difficult to move,” Mitch continued. “When your body is sideways and your hand tries to push off the rock, it’s almost impossible to push your rope through the rungs.”

My breathing accelerated. I finally succeeded in weaving my line through the apparatus. Bobbie and I handed him the ends of our rope. And here things got a bit dicey…. Suppose you were at a beheading and you were the beheadee….and the proceedings came to a halt because the guillotine need sharpening…. Ah, But I digress.

Mitch held the opposite ends of the blue and pink rope, line, whatever. He turned to Curt and hesitantly asked, “Okay, how do you tie these together?”

My breathing quickened. Bobbie and I exchanged THE look.

“Well, it’s not an exact science. Sometimes I – ” Curt caught himself and gave us a sheepish look. “This is Mitch’s first time out with real people.” He apologized.

‘What the hell did that mean?’ My breath quickened tenfold. How would you like to be the first patient of a brand new, first time, barely out of medical school heart surgeon? I gasped for air. My lungs inflated and deflated in 5/4 time. I’d just ran a world record mile, pant.

“Do you want to walk back to the base? Watch a few other people go down?

Rest a while?” Curt offered.

The cocoon coffin no longer seemed like such a bad idea. Embarrassing maybe. Sure I’d be the butt of a few jokes for the next ten or twenty years. So what. I thought about the cocoon. Still panting, I turned to Mitch. “If Bobbie and I don’t go down together how will she get down?”

“We’ll find someone to rappel down with her,” he assured me.

I inhaled a huge gulp of air. Steeled myself. “Nope let’s do it. We go together.” Bobbie smiled. Even I was surprised by my seeming recovery.

I grasped the blue rope and suddenly realized rope is made of little hairs. Horse hairs I think or some sort of synthetic fiber. I was about to roll off of a rock twelve stories above ground and trust my life to a bunch of little hairs. Hell, worse I was trusting my wife’s life to a bunch of cilia.

“Honey, are you ready?” Bobbie eased me back to reality. I nodded with what I hoped was a masculine, husband-like, leader of the family nod. “Well, I’m not starting without you,” she smiled.

From some hidden reserve a spurt of protective testosterone kicked in. I felt stronger. “Shall we do it?”

Off Bobbie’s nod we both eased over our edges of Morning Glory Arch and did it!

That’s Bobbie on the pink rope. Thought I was kidding didn’t you? I’m waiting in the void on the other side of the arch dangling on the blue rope.

look carefully --- and see the danglees


Bobbie and I have adopted a litany of our own. The rappelling that we did for the first time; we did for the last time

Tips I picked up on the Internet AFTER our rappelling adventure.

  • Know how to use your rappel device before trying it out on a real rappel. The actual event is not a good time to learn how it works.


When getting ready to rappel DO NOT listen to instructors with regard to equipment. Insist on seeing the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to best use their equipment.

And the last from an expert mountaineer: “Rappelling is one of the most dangerous activities in climbing because it is one of the few times you are fully and exclusively dependent on your rope (Tuck’s note: he said rope not line – go figure).


You can stop here. But if by mistake -- I've given you any reason to consider rappelling - please read on.


There are a lot of different ways to rappel down a cliff. Here's how to use standard rock-climbing gear and technique to rappel using a single 50- or 60-meter rope.


Difficulty: Moderately challenging

Things You'll Need

  • Athletic Tapes

  • Climbing Gear

  • Climbing Harnesses

  • Climbing Helmets

  • Climbing Ropes

  • Climbing Shoes


Step One

Set the rappel anchor. The rappel anchors should be tested before you trust them with your life. You should be securely attached to these anchors with a sling or daisy chain while you proceed through the following steps.

Step Two

Prepare the rope for a single rope rappel. Fix one end of the rope to the rappel anchors by tieing a double figure 8 knot into the carabiners at the end of the equalized anchors. Make sure the rope doesn't go over any sharp edges and that the other end of the rope makes it to the ground.

Step Three

Attach the rappel device to the rope. Be careful not to drop your device as you are attaching it to the rope. Check the manufacturer's instructions for how to use your particular rappel device.

Step Four

Click to enlarge

Attach your rappel device to your harness. Clip into the rappel device with a locking carabiner. Do not unclip from the anchors (Step 1) until you are sure you are correctly attached to the rappel device, and the rappel device is correctly attached to the rope. After you've tested both the rope and the device, you can unclip your daisy chain from the anchors and proceed with the rappel.

Step Five

Get in position. These instructions assume you are right-handed or are comfortable using your right hand in this. Place your left hand around the rope about 6 inches above the rappel device. Your left hand will be between your rappel device and the anchors holding the rope. Consider wearing gloves to protect your hands.

Step Six

Click to enlarge

Grab the rope that hangs down out of the rappel device with your right hand and slide your hand on the rope back to your right hip and wrap the rope slightly around your right hip. Your right hand in this configuration is called your brake hand.

Step Seven

Click to enlarge

Rappel downward. Let some of the rope in your right hand slide up through the rappel device. As you do this you will slide down the rope.

Step Eight

Click to enlarge

Move past obstructions and overhangs. Make sure not to knock loose any rocks or other debris.

Step Nine

When you are safely on the ground, release the rope from your rappel device and call "Off rappel" for others who may be waiting.

Tips & Warnings

  • Know how to use your rappel device before trying it out on a real rappel. The actual event is not a good time to learn how it works.

  • Use a prusik to self-belay. A prusik is a large loop of 5-8 mm perlon rope that is used to tie a special self-locking knot called a prusik knot. As you slide down the rappel line with the prusik knot in your hand, the prusik slides along with you, but when you let go of the prusik, the prusik locks.

  • If you're not sure your ropes reach the ground, tie a large knot in the end of the rope so that you don't rappel off the end of your rope. That could be a little hairy.

  • Rappeling is one of the most dangerous (PLEASE READ THIS TEN TIMES) activities in climbing because it is one of the few times you are fully and exclusively dependent on your rope. If you can walk off the route safely, instead of rappeling, this is preferable.

  • These instructions are for a single rope rappel, not a double rope rappel. Single rope rappels should only be used in situations where you can safely return to the rappel anchors to retrive your gear and fixed rope without climbing.

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